This April we have been celebrating Financial Literacy Month, a time dedicated to creating awareness of effective money management skills and promoting this education among young people. When you consider that 47 percent of Federal Reserve survey participants said they couldn’t cover a $400 emergency without borrowing or selling something, and 64 percent of U.S. consumers are living paycheck-to-paycheck according to LendingClub Corp., we should be catapulted into action. Building a financially literate society is critical.
While certain groups—African Americans, Hispanics, lower-income people—have fewer financial resources, financial insecurity is an equal-opportunity issue that affects every demographic. Millions of adults, young and old, know what it’s like to be down to their last few dollars while waiting for a paycheck; what it’s like to go to the mailbox knowing there’ll be more bills they can’t pay; what it’s like to have credit cards maxed and borrow money to provide for their families.
These circumstances and others could be avoided with a basic understanding of personal finance. What if we could help young people avoid financial mistakes and prevent them from experiencing these hardships? What if we could prepare them for a future that includes buying a home, saving for emergencies and building for retirement?
Recently, the Florida legislature passed a bill that requires high schoolers to take a financial literacy course to receive a diploma.
“Ensuring students have the skills to manage their finances will pay dividends for our state,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.
This is a major step toward preparing youth to make well-informed financial decisions, but we need more, and we need it earlier. If we believe financial literacy is a critical life skill, it must be included and supported in elementary, middle and high school.
Broward County Public Schools, believes in this education and 13 years ago partnered with Junior Achievement of South Florida (JA) to provide every student with the education and experience to practice financial literacy concepts, develop work skills and learn entrepreneurial values. JA is part of one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world that delivers hands-on, immersive learning in work readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
In JA’s BizTown program, every 5th grade student participates in classroom lessons and a full day experience in a simulated city with life-like storefronts at JA World Huizenga Center at the Lillian S. Wells Pavilion. At BizTown, each child is assigned a job, earns a salary, saves and spends their earnings, helps run their business and contributes to running a mock economy.
“It’s great to see kids in action, getting a hands-on understanding of how money’s managed and how businesses are run. JA programs immerse students in real-world environments,” said a mother and JA volunteer, Mercedes. “I was fortunate to learn about money from my family. They understood the value of money and importance of budgeting and saving. Many of my friends never learned this at home, and it wasn’t taught in schools, so they made a lot of money mistakes.”
In another wing of JA World, all 8th grade students participate in the Finance Park program. After completing classroom lessons that introduce them to career paths, they learn about real-life finance concepts like taxes, interest, credit scores and saving for emergencies. Students take on adult profiles and navigate a simulated town to learn about careers and budgeting their earnings.
“I wish I had this when I was young,” said Julie Franciosi-Jackson, an Assistant Principal at Crystal Lake Middle School. “This curriculum and experience gives students a chance to learn about career opportunities and how to manage the money they earn.”
When young people don’t see a path to a productive, prosperous future, they become disengaged and disenchanted. The consequences — financial hardship, debt, dismal credit scores — of making one poor financial decision can follow them for decades. One of the best things we can do for young people is prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood.
JA also delivers high school programs that provide financial literacy education, including, Stock Market Challenge, where high school students compete in teams to invest portfolios; JA Career Bound, a career exploration and employment preparation program; Youth Employment, a program placing students in paid summer jobs; Marine/Construction Pre-Apprenticeship program, preparing students for apprenticeships and employment, and 3DE, a model that transforms high school education.
We can all contribute to creating the next generation of financially literate citizens. Get involved – mentor, volunteer, teach and support financial literacy today. Visit www.jasouthflorida.org.